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Rethinking Economics: Pluralism, Interdisciplinarity and Activism. IIPPE’s 6th Annual Conference

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By Annina Kaltenbrunner, Mary Robertson and Al Campbell

The International Initiative for Promoting Political Economy (IIPPE) held its Sixth Annual Conference in Political Economy at the University of Leeds on the 9-11th of September. This year’s conference focused on fostering reflection on positive alternatives to the mainstream by examining political economy from the complementary angles of pluralism, interdisciplinarity and activism. The programme consisted of 222 presentations in 64 panels from across the social sciences and activists, plus four plenary sessions. For the first time the programme also included screenings of 8 radical documentaries, including Riots Reframed by Fahim Alam and The War You Don’t See by John Pilger.

The conference was hosted by the Economics Division of Leeds University Business School, which ranked in the top ten in the UK’s most recent Research Excellency Framework. The Division is a growing centre for heterodox political economy, whose pluralist research environment is reflected in the strong presence of faculty members working in the fields of post-Keynesian, Institutionalist, Evolutionary, and Marxist economics, alongside more mainstream researchers. The Division has a growing and vibrant PhD community which supported the organisation of the conference. Interdisciplinarity has been actively cultivated in the Division in recent years, particularly through the Division’s central role in the FESSUD and iBuild projects and the emerging University-wide cities research theme. Several faculty members are also actively engaged with public policy making on the regional, national and international level.

Reflecting IIPPE’s objective to build links with activists in economics and beyond, and a strong base of economic student activists at Leeds, the conference included panels by the International Student’s Initiative for Pluralism in Economics (ISIPE), Reteaching Economics, and a plenary session featuring a representative from Rethinking Economics. As in previous years, there was also a training workshop on the day before the conference, in which Simon Mohun, Alfredo Saad-Filho and John Weeks spoke on the topic of ‘the rate of profit and crisis.’ This year’s conference was also generously supported by the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS), a progressive European-level think tank that seeks to build an intellectual crossroads between social democracy and the European project.

Plenary sessions were reduced to two speakers per session this year in order to allow presenters to go into greater depth and to provide more time for discussion. The opening plenary around the theme of Pluralism and Interdisciplinarity featured John Weeks speaking on ‘troglodyte economics – the neoclassical politicizing of the profession’ and Johnna Montgomerie on ‘why debts matter – how interdisciplinarity helps us rethink economics’. Thursday’s plenary brought together two leading financialisation scholars, Brett Christophers and Gary Dymski, to debate ‘monopoly power, inequality, and instability in the era of global capitalism’. The closing plenary addressed the issue of economic activism. The scheduled speakers were Bruno Tinel on ‘FAPE and the open letter’, Yuan Yang of Rethinking Economics on ‘the fight to demystify, diversify, and invigorate economics’, and Ania Skrzypek from FEPS on ‘from rhetoric of overspending to the truth about social investments – European next left in a search for a new narrative.’ Last minute personal issues prevented both Yuan and Ania from attending, but their planned presentations are available on the IIPPE Web site, along with those of all the other plenary speakers. Excellent and well-received “no notice” substitute presentations by Elva Bova for Ania and Diana García López for Yuan closed out the conference with a bang.

As always, the conference had a strong representation from international scholars from the Global South. It featured several panels thematising the peculiar economic, social, and political struggles in these countries. To further forge IIPPE’s international ties, this year the conference had a special plenary organised by our sister Political Economy organizations, SEP (Brazilian Society of Political Economy) and SEPLA (Latin American Society of Political Economy) on ‘the end of neo-developmentalism’. The speakers were two leading Brazilian academics: Leda Paulani from the University of Sao Paulo and Vanessa Petrelli Correa from the Federal University of Uberlandia.

Leeds today is at the centre of Britain’s post-industrial and multicultural North. Curry has become the staple diet of Yorkshire. The conference dinner at renowned Pakistani restaurant, Akbars, provided the perfect occasion to sample this cuisine while socialising collectively with other delegates.

The location of the conference in the North of England presented the opportunity to explore the former heart of industrial Britain. The social programme, which follows the conference proper every year, seeks to provide a space where people can meet and discuss their research in a relaxed, informal environment. This year’s social programme was organised round the theme of exploring the ‘cradle of capitalism and of anti-capitalist resistance’ in Leeds and Manchester. It included a visit to Leeds’ own Industrial Museum, the celebrated People’s History Museum in Manchester, and a guided radical walking tour of Manchester. The latter includes the sites that defined Manchester not only as the trailblazer of the industrial revolution, but also as the key site in the development of an independent workers’ opposition to capital. It included a visit to Chetham’s Library, where two headstrong young scholars once sat together to write of a spectre then (and still today) haunting Europe.

IIPPE’s Seventh Annual Conference in Political Economy will be held September 7 – 9, 2016, at the Instituto Superior de Economia e Gestão (Higher Institute of Economics and Management) in Lisbon. The call for papers will be issued and be on IIPPE’s website by late fall, 2015.

From: p.2 of World Economics Association Newsletter 5(5), October 2015


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